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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clear writing is not clear thinking, 28 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language (Hardcover)
Nothing should be easier than to agree with than a book that takes exactly the same position on a subject dear to my heart--writing clearly and succinctly. Yet "Death Sentences," which does a good job of trotting out a shoebox full of mangled bureaucratese, only shows why clear writing is not the same as clear thinking. Australian writer/intellectual Don Watson's work starts sanguinely enough. He lists scores of examples of the deadening incomprehensible corporate-speak, military-speak and advertising-speak. "Employment outcomes," "quality participation opportunities," and "major change drivers," are just some of the oleaginous verbal slop thickly slathered on as mission statements, empowerment manifestos, or the proclamation of multicultural diversity.
At the beginning of the book I felt myself nodding in agreement with the many examples of the problem, a problem that not only offends sensibilities (of requiring writing to be understood), but which seems almost designed to conceal meaning.
Yet, after 40 pages of examples interspersed with homilies, I began to experience a sense of uneasiness. O.K., professional writing is going down the tubes; now what? By 60 pages I became impatient. Yes, much corporate-speak is abominable; what's next? Why, other than being ugly, is this bad? And is there a cure?
Well, there was nothing next--only another 120 pages of more of the same. No indication of the extent of the problem. No explication of any actual harm. And no cure was mooted. The only change of cadence was a lurch into a series of anti-Bush barbs, as if he were the only American politician who ever mangled the English language. Malapropisms cherry-picked from the presidential campaign were notable only by the complete absence of a single Kerry grammatical flip-flop.
The result is a 167-page listing of linguistic laments, annotated by the author, that could as well have been Xeroxed on a half-dozen pages. What is needed now is a sequel to this book to describe clearly and succinctly, why clear writing would make for good politics or good business. (Maybe it wouldn't.) Unfortunately, Watson's book starts a good argument that he fatally fails to finish.
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